After a tough loss, the Utah Utes are back in action against the USC Trojans. USC coach Clay Helton says he now considers this a rivalry game for the Trojans due to the impact it always has on the Pac-12 South race.
The conference game will be in Los Angeles on Saturday at 6 p.m. MDT. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.
Here are six numbers to get you ready for the conference matchup.
USC quarterback Sam Darnold has thrown nine interceptions in the season so far. Darnold rose to national prominence and shot up on NFL draft boards with his campaign last season. Darnold threw for 31 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards for the Trojan offense as a redshirt freshman. This season, he is off to a slower start. He has thrown an interception in each game and has matched his total from last season on 156 fewer throws. Part of the subpar play has been due to the offensive line. Darnold has been sacked 10 times this season, compared to just six times last season, and he has faced pressure from opposing defenses all year.
Even with Darnold’s down year, he is still projected to be the No. 1 pick in the next NFL draft. Multiple sources, including Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, have Darnold on top of their NFL draft board and consider him a franchise signal-caller for a lucky NFL team in the future. USC has had a storied past with NFL draft picks. The Trojans rank No. 1 out of all college football teams with 80 first-round draft picks in their school history. The Trojans also lead all college football teams in total NFL draft picks with 502. For reference, Utah has had eight first-round picks and 155 total draft picks.
Darnold isn’t the only player to watch in this Trojan offense. Running back Ronald Jones II has accumulated 631 yards on the season with just 90 touches. Jones is far from the explosive force that Bryce Love was last week for Stanford, but Jones is a consistent nightmare for opposing defenses. He is averaging 7 yards every time he touches the ball and has been steadily averaging around that number his entire collegiate career. Jones is a reliable player who will be given 15-20 touches a game to make his mark on the defense.
Utah’s offense will need to be more effective if the Utes hope to defeat the Trojans. With Tyler Huntley looking like he will miss another game, Utah will try to find his replacement in either Troy Williams or Cooper Bateman. Huntley’s production was surely missed in last week’s loss against Stanford. On the season, Huntley is averaging 8 yards per pass attempt, good for a top-40 ranking in the nation. In Troy Williams’ limited action, he is averaging just 6.36 yards per attempt. Williams’ 6.36 yards per attempt is good for just 100th in the nation. With a dynamic receiver like Darren Carrington II, Utah needs to stretch the field and get the ball in open space to create some offense to open up the run game.
As Utah moves the ball down the field, the offense will need to finish the drive and punch it in for a touchdown if the Utes hope to be successful. Utah is scoring a touchdown on just 46 percent of its red zone trips. Utah has 14 touchdowns on its 30 total red zone attempts. Thanks to the trusty leg of Matt Gay, Utah still has an impressive 90 percent total conversion rate with 27 total scores in those 30 attempts. Gay has kicked 13 of his 16 field goals in the red zone this season. Some points are better than no points, but 7 points is better than 3 points.
This game might come down to which team can limit its team turnovers. The Utes have forced 14 turnovers on the season while the Trojans are at 15. Both teams rank in the top 10 respectively for their defensive efforts. However, both teams have had their struggles holding on to the ball on the offensive side. The Utes' offense has had 10 turnovers and the Trojans are at 13 turnovers thus far on their respective seasons.
Prediction: The first team to three turnovers loses the game.
Cameron Wood is a graduate of Weber State University and a teacher and coach at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah. Email: [email protected]. Follow on twitter @camwood03.